"We got a safe in the trunk with money in a stack.
"With dice in the front and Brooklyn's in the back."
"No Sleep Till Brooklyn" — Beastie Boys
By Barry Janoff
April 21, 2013: Charles Wang, owner of the NHL's New York Islanders, has money, influence and, as it turns out, a sense of humor.
Wang, the 68-year old hard-driving businessman who raised Computer Associates into a major player, became part owner of the Islanders in 2000 and majority owner in 2004. Since then, Wang has been at the forefront of finding a new venue for the Islanders, which have been at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island's Nassau County since 1972, the year it opened.
Ultimately, negotiations with officials in Nassau County broke down and Wang signed a deal to move the Islanders and the NHL to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, about 22 miles west but light years away in terms of support.
"I love hockey, I love the game. But I don't love the other BS," Wang said. "I wish we could trade the politicians. But what would you get for them!?"
The move was officially unveiled on Oct. 24, 2012. Asked for his reflections some six months later, Wang joyously shouted. "Hello, Brooklyn!"
"We've been working on this for a long time," said Wang, whose comments came while he was a featured speaker during a sports facilities, franchises and ticketing symposium in the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge on April 18, held under the auspices of Sports Business Journal. "We wanted to stay in New York, play in a first class arena. . . . Everything we wanted to do was for Long Island, but it failed.
Wang then referenced Bruce Ratner, the businessman at the forefront of the building of Barclays Center and surrounding area at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, as well as the move of the NBA's Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn, "Bruce succeeded," Wang said, "That's bittersweet to me in a way. [But now] our fan base and our new fan base are coming together."
The Isles move to Brooklyn, under a 25-year deal, is scheduled to begin with the 2015-16 NHL season. The team's current lease expires after the 2014-15 season. When asked about reports that he might seek to move the franchise in 2014, Wang said, "We are committed to fulfill our lease. We are not in any discussions [to move earlier. But] If it makes sense for everyone, obviously we would."
The Islanders will actually make their Barclays Center debut much earlier, Sept. 21, 2013, when they host the New Jersey Devils in a pre-season game. The Isles also are reaping the rewards of their Brooklyn move in another way: Next season, they will play the New York Rangers in an outdoor Winter Classic in Yankee Stadium on Jan. 26, one of six outdoor games the NHL is planning for the 2013-14 season.
"I expect more media coverage for the team, more of a spotlight," said Wang. "But that comes with the package."
Wang said that he and Ratner met when both were bidding to buy the Nets in 2004. The franchise is now majority-owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, with Ratner as a minority owner. "I failed," Wang said regarding his bid on the Nets. "Now, we're friends. We used to kid each other: He said, if you build [a new arena] first I'll come; if I build one first, you'll come."
The move actually reunites the Nets and Islanders. The two franchises were co-tenants in Nassau Coliseum from 1972-77, with the then New York Nets part of the ABA until the league merged with the NBA in 1976. The Nets franchise moved to New Jersey in 1977, where they stayed until moving to Brooklyn in 2012.
Seattle, Quebec and Kansas City were among the cities said to be in discussions with Wang when it became known that the franchise was in relocation mode.
"There was interest from other cities," Wang said. "And we were intrigued. We had bona fide offers to move. You have to think about it. You listen to offers. You get cramps from writing checks. But at the end of the day, this is your home. You do everything to make it better. I wanted to stay loyal. It's the New York Islanders.
"Some would say I'm stupid. Some would say I'm stubborn. I prefer to say I'm stubborn."
Wang, who lives on Long Island, is actually returning to his boyhood stomping ground. Born in Shanghai, he moved with his family to New York when he was eight. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School, then Queens College and Columbia University.
"I'm working with the Long Island Rail Road [a major mode of transportation connecting Long Island and New York, including a stop right at the front door of the Barclays Center] to provide more trains after the games," said Wang. "I ride the train to Barclays Center (where he has season tickets to Brooklyn Nets games)." He then added with a laugh, "I probably won't ride the LIRR home after we lose!"
Wang also showed his sense of humor when asked whether or not he gets advice about the Islanders from fans, friends and other people with whom he comes in contact.
"Everywhere I go, everyone is a GM," he said. "I go into a store, someone says to trade this one, sign this one, do this on a power play." Does he get any good ideas? "Oh, yeah!" he laughed.
The Nets move from New Jersey to Brooklyn came not only with a name rebranding, but also also a new look, courtesy of then minority owner Jay-Z, who just sold his interest in the team to avoid a legal conflict of interest with his new endeavor, Roc Nation Sports, which is working to sign athletes and representing them in marketing and financial deals.
Might the Islanders follow the Nets lead by changing their name to the Brooklyn Islanders and/or giving up their traditional blue and orange colors to match the Nets' team colors of black and white?
"Brett is a master marketer," Wang said referring to Brett Yormark, CEO of the Nets and Barclays Center, and a man known for his marketing, sales and PR creativeness and success. "He is very, very good. We've been listening to him. But we're not going to rename the team. The colors are the same. The logo is the same."
"We'll do things to recognize our home in Brooklyn, but nothing is going to dramatically change. We are in New York and Long Island is part of that."
The Islanders already have used an alternate jersey that is predominantly black, and Wang intimated that this third jersey would be included in the Brooklyn move. But as for a name change similar to MLB's Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim? Not happening/
"We'll probably do things to recognize our home now in Brooklyn, but nothing is going to dramatically change," said Wang. "We will embrace Brooklyn. But we are in New York and Long Island is part of that."
New York Islanders Go West: 22 Miles From Uniondale To Brooklyn
Q&A: Brett Yormark: Lights! Camera! Action! At Barclays Center
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